An open letter to British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

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Dear Chief Rabbi,

We have known each other for a long time and as one who considers himself a personal friend and has always admired you as a profound religious thinker, I have thought long and hard before committing to paper what I have to say in this open and public fashion. I feel compelled to do so because the issues involved go to the very heart of Israel’s critical self-examination, indeed to the very heart of Israel’s right to be.

Last week in Switzerland I addressed a large gathering of European Jewish students. I told them that in contrast to two years ago, there is now a consensus amongst the vast majority of us that we are at war with those who still seek to deny us our right to live as a Jewish nation; that we have no ambition to rule over the Palestinians; but we do oppose territorial concessions as long as this is likely to encourage the Palestinians to believe that terrorism will ultimately succeed in ejecting us from our country.

I also said that the conflict is not “a cycle of violence” but a confrontation between good and evil; between a society that seeks peace and a society suffused with such primeval hatred that it even sanctions child sacrifice. Our situation vis a vis the Palestinians is as black and white as the fight of the Allies against the Nazis during World War 2. It is as simple as that.

I tell you this because at that assembly of European students I received an amazingly positive response from an audience I had been warned would be ambivalent and critical of Israel. For many of them this was the first time they had understood that this was no mere battle over conflicting claims, but a life and death struggle for Israel’s very right to exist.

So when you say in your Guardian interview that “This kind of prolonged conflict, together with the absence of hope, generates hatred and insensitivities that in the long run are corrupting to a culture” and “incompatible in the long run with our deepest ideals” – what are you telling us to do? Are you saying that as a people we are behaving unethically? Are you suggesting we should stop defending ourselves? Become pacifists? Or perhaps pack our bags and get out?

Of course war is morally degrading. But I say with every fiber of my being that in our case, unlike other nations fighting for their existence, we have maintained our sense of humanity, our Jewish values, our tzelem elokim. Many of our soldiers lie in graves because they sought to minimize civilian casualties and refrained from using the awesome military power at their disposal.

So why express “profound shock” over an isolated exception – “the smiling soldiers and the corpse” – the stupid behavior of a few idiots, when virtually the entire IDF demonstrates day by day a true Kiddush Hashem?

Even setting aside the fact that the incident you quoted was a singular exception, condemned by virtually all in this country, how can you justify highlighting such an uncharacteristic example to an audience that already harbors a jaundiced attitude to our situation? In the past, you have spoken out loud and clear against the violent wave of anti-Semitism engulfing Europe. Can you deny that your remarks will provide grist for the mills of anti-Semites who will undoubtedly quote your moral strictures against Israel with relish? Indeed, the BBC World Service is repeatedly doing so.

And in The Guardian of all places! The primary UK media vehicle for undermining and de-legitimizing Israel! Is this the medium for a message by a Chief Rabbi about the “clash of civilizations”? Is this the vehicle to tell Britain and the rest of the world that Israel’s occupation is corruptive, and that things are happening in Israel which “make me feel very uncomfortable as a Jew”? Were you really surprised when The Guardian headlined your remarks “Israel Set on a Tragic Path”?

How can you agree to meet with a satanic figure like Sheikh Abu Hamya? Do you feel sufficiently confident in your powers of persuasion to grant a Chief Rabbi’s indulgence to such a monster by suggesting dialogue? You speak approvingly of the fact that the Hamza sent a message of support when a London synagogue was desecrated. Does that “balance” his support for suicide bombings and Bin Laden, or his equation of Jews with Satan?

What is the purpose of it all? To remonstrate with the Jewish community that we are “corrupting” ourselves? They hear that every day in the media. Was it to distance Anglo Jewry from the Jewish state in the eyes of Britons so that they may be perceived as different as and less fanatical than their Israeli kinsmen? Was it to make the British readers aware that the spiritual leader of Anglo Jewry is more sensitive to human suffering than his Israeli counterparts, and that he believes in extending the other cheek to one’s foe? Incidentally, would not the Jewish Chronicle have been good enough a vehicle to convey all of that?

And what is one to say about the kind of people who are giving you their full support – the very people who seek our demise: supporters of Osama Bin Laden: the venomous anti Semites: the anti Israeli leftists like Gerald Kaufman: the Jewish critics of Israel, many of whom sound like the self-hating Jewish communists of old: the Jewish liberal and reform groups who until now regarded you as an intolerant bigot: or the local Neturei Karte loonies who the BBC quoted approvingly.

Chief Rabbi, for all your intelligence and originality, your interview was badly timed, unleashed dark forces, and will be thoroughly exploited by those who seek to harm or delegitimize the Jewish State.

My plea to you in this season of the High Holydays, the season of contemplation and reflection, is to return to what you have always said and said so well: that the people of Israel are a caring and humane nation; that we are fighting for our very right to live in peace and security; and that given a genuine hand of peace from the other side which would not jeopardize our future, most of us would be ready to divide the land between us. Pray together with us that the coming year will witness the downfall of the enemies of the Jewish people who throughout our long history have also been the enemies of compromise, co-existence and peace.



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